All retailers should be subject to the same plastic bag levy in the interest of fairness and to avoid potential legal challenges, environment officials told lawmakers yesterday.
The Environmental Protection Department has proposed that the 50 HK cent plastic bag levy, which currently only big store chains must charge their customers, be extended to cover all 60,000 retailers in the city.
It also proposes that all retailers be allowed to keep the proceeds of the levy to minimise administrative costs, especially for small outlets.
But some lawmakers say big store chains should continue forwarding the levy proceeds to the government, as they do now, lest they profit from the measure.
Democrat Kam Nai-wai, one of those in favour of such a dual approach, said big supermarket chains would pocket most of the proceeds from the levy - about HK$20 million a year - if they didn't have to pass them to the government.
'The big companies will be allowed to [gain from] the levy. At the end of the day, this will backfire on the levy scheme and become a significant step backward,' Kam said.
But Environment Secretary Edward Yau Tang-wah said treating retailers differently would be controversial and unfair.
Samson Lai Yiu-kei, an assistant director of the Environmental Protection Department, said the Justice Department did not support a dual system since it might lead to a legal challenge under the Basic Law, which guarantees that any firms in the same trade are subject to the same regulations.
However, Civic Party lawmaker Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, a barrister, disagreed that a dual system would raise many legal issues. She said it was common for different regulations to be enacted to cover different policy considerations.
Starry Lee Wai-king, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, supported the proposed changes but said the supermarket chains should keep transparent records of revenue from the levy and use the proceeds for charity.
Lawmakers also questioned whether a proposal to levy charges to cover the fost of disposal of electrical and electronic products were truly about producer responsibility.
The proposal will require customers to pay a fee when they buy items including TVs, fridges, washing machines, air conditioners, and computer products. Retailers will be asked to take back old and unwanted appliances for disposal at a government recycling plant.
Lawmakers from various parties said the producers and importers of such products would not face any charges under the scheme, leaving consumers and retailers to bear the full cost of recycling the waste.
Yau told the lawmakers that it was not possible to charge manufacturers, as they were not in Hong Kong.
The estimated number of plastic bags, in billions, dumped at the city's landfills last year, up 7 per cent from 2009